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WinXP – burn baby, burn…

Or not - the toasting's a little inconsistent...

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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

WinXP Diaries Microsoft's decision to make Windows Media Player 8 a WinXP-only product was made, the company explains, because, er, only WinXP supports cool features like CD burning. Betanews amusingly suggested that the subsequent warezing of a Win98 version of WMP8 might have been a cunning Microsoft plan to generate interest in an otherwise uncompelling product, but The Register's experiences with the XP-only bit strongly suggest it's equally uncompelling.

The big sales point, frankly, is as unlovely as the thing it's supposed to be selling, and I've been churning out dud CDs in such volumes that I'm beginning to wonder how many shares in Maxell and Memorex Bill might have. Attempts to cut audio CDs progressed pretty (and with hinsight, suspiciously) quickly. Then they didn't seem to have anything on them. Hardware problem?

It certainly doesn't play with Winamp or Musicmatch either, although both identify an audio CD, and Winamp bizarrely suggests track one is the Allman Brothers, then flunks the rest. Neil Young Unplugged, actually. Hmm... A proper CD player just buzzes when I put the disc in. Hardware problem? Musicmatch records a second attempt on the same hardware successfully, which is how I managed to criminalise Register factotum Lester Haines. Obviously I don't need two copies of The Clash on Broadway, but as his is unlicensed, maybe he'd better eat it.

Mind you, if I record the CD (which I bought, and therefore have a licence for) to my hard disk, WMP8 will happily report that I don't have a licence either. I nevertheless think it entirely unreasonable (but entirely in the spirit of the greedhead music business) that I should eat mine too.

Enough of that - the gist is that WMP8 repeatedly takes a run at cutting a music CD then screws up, leaving me with a useless CD that WinXP at least seems incapable of doing anything about, while a more established piece of software does a perfectly good and reliable job, using the same hardware. Orlowski tells me RealJukebox does a better job than Musicmatch, quality-wise, but thanks to WMP8 I've got to go buy some more blanks to verify this.

Experience says that WinXP's burning capabilities are wobbly for data as well. I suspect the proportion of failed writes is rather higher than I'd get on the same hardware, using DirectCD and EasyCD under Win98, but I'm not sure I can afford the media to do the full statistical analysis. Yesterday's exercise, however, will give you an idea of its many failings.

I'm running one test system of XP at home, and one in the office. Email is pivotal to what I do, but rationally you can only have one single copy of your fully current email database at any one time, and if you don't have a large 'access from anywhere' server you leave it on, you've got a problem if you're even only working from two location.

So, something of an axe-murderer solution occurred to me. Use Outlook on both machines, centralise the lot in one of them, then simply truck backups burned onto CD between the two. Before you point it out, yes, I know that it's going to be difficult to get the database out of Outlook 2002 (which is of course the relevant component of Office XP), but a few months down the line any rival product I want to relocate to (or through - I've done this before) will have the necessary routine.

Here. however, is how the cunning plan operated, and how come some of you who mailed me on Monday didn't get a reply on Tuesday after all. Tuesday morning, the home machine having the complete database, I exported to a .pst file, which I then copied onto a CD. 91 megabytes - what a big one I've got, and that doesn't include all of the attachments that didn't import from Eudora. Note that you can't just write direct from Outlook to CD - it reports incorrect filename, which is a typically Microsoft spurious error message covering the matter of Outlook not knowing you can now write to CDs in the first place. Word 2002 doesn't know about them either, so it's slightly explicable in that Office XP is for Win98 as well, and that doesn't support CD burning. Notepad in XP, however, does know, so there's something.

I could do a rant about building proper object technology into operating systems now, but I won't. Later, maybe.

On arriving in the office yesterday, copying the file to the hard disk and fiddling with the archive and read only settings (MS settings dialogues also don't know you should be able to do this on a writable CD), I find the file fails to import. On closer scrutiny, it's 0 megabytes. Funny that. So we'll skip answering emails today.

Later, time to go home, so more experimentation with what's come in, in order to sync with the now incomplete database at home. Try writing to the earlier CD, which has space, but again I get an empty file. Try a blank disk (the only one left, dammit), and again, an empty file. That shoots down theory one, which was that XP craps out writing to disks with data already on them - although it still seems worse at doing this than at writing to blanks. Try again, and this time, when it prompts me for Finish? after ejecting the disk, I put the disk back in and then click finish. Then the CD drive kicks into a long period of activity, I check to see I've got a file with data in it on Lester's machine (can't trust mine, could be doing some nightmare cacheing job), then come home.

J'accuse? Not quite. Trying to repeat this later, clicking finish without reinserting the CD, I get a decent copy anyway. This morning's drop, now 94 megs, cut properly first time, although I played safge by shutting the door at the suspicious moment. But overall, I think WinXP's trying to be a lot cleverer about CD burning than it's currently capable of. Time to figure out how to get DirectCD on without breaking everything again, or maybe to switch over to Nero.

Related stories:
WinXP: product activation, updates and control freakery
WinXP: why it's the Big One that could make MS bigger yet
WinXP delayed? How it could slip beyond October

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